Dance Archives

European Choreographers Translate John Coltrane’s Classic “A Love Supreme” Into a Dance Gem


John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme in a New Jersey studio with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison in 1965. Forty years later, Belgian dance artist Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker entered her space in Brussels and went to work translating this jazz masterpiece into choreography for another quartet. Alongside her was an injured dancer, Salva Sanchis of Spain, who worked to include improvisation in the piece, which first appeared in Belgium in 2005.

Now, twelve years after the emergence of that version, four young members of de Keersmaeker’s troupe, Rosas, have brought a new iteration of the remarkable work to America, where, on Wednesday night in Chelsea, it lifted a packed house to its feet. Using a strategy sometimes uncharitably called “Mickey Mousing” the score, the choreographers often assign an action to every note in parts of the recording. The result, in concert with improvisational sections, allows viewers to see the music — to watch Jones’s percussion fireworks manifest magnificently in the body of Brazilian dancer José Paulo dos Santos, Tyner’s fleet piano trills drive Moroccan Bilal El Had, Garrison’s silky bass lines take possession of Belgian Jason Respilieux. And, of course, to see Thomas Vantuycom, also Belgian, channel Coltrane’s immortal saxophone melodies, and the murmured words he wrote to go along with the piece.

The latest version of the work, which begins in silence on a bare stage and concludes less than fifty minutes later, is a model of how to collaborate with a composer, even a long-deceased one. Each barefoot dancer, simply clad in dark shirt and pants, is responsible to the score, to the set choreography, and to the other performers; these demands generate a quality of liveliness and attentiveness rare on contemporary stages. You watch the performers watch each other, you watch them listen, and every now and then you catch them watching you, a feat of concentration rare in the dance world. People speak of certain music as “uplifting”; here, after stretches of solo dancing, you watch the four men commune with one another, share weight, lift Vantuycom-as-Coltrane. You realize that this is some of the purest, most unfussy dancing to jazz music that you have ever seen.

Even as it was still unfolding, I wanted to sit through it again, right there, right then. The remaining shows at New York Live Arts are sold out, but get yourself on the waiting list. Come at seven for free live music in the lobby, played by saxophonist Tony Jarvis. Maybe a ticketed someone won’t show up, and you’ll get in. If you don’t, head down to Princeton University next weekend, where A Love Supreme is a highlight of a huge arts festival.

A Love Supreme
New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street
Through September 30

Also at:

Hearst Dance Theater, Lewis Center for the Arts
185 Nassau Street, Princeton, N.J.
October 6–8